International Tourism: The Long Journey To Recovery

Tourism was one of the first sectors to be deeply squeezed by the pandemic. Lockdowns and the closure of international borders led to a near-complete cessation of activity in an industry which had grown immensely over recent decades. With the worst of the pandemic behind us, there are signs that the industry is finally seeing some recovery.

Tourism is a significant source of employment and livelihood for millions around the world, especially in Europe. As a result, COVID restrictions had an unprecedented impact on travel-related jobs and businesses. Prior to the pandemic, the travel & tourism sector accounted for one in four of all new jobs created globally. It also represented 10% of the world’s employment (333 million) and global gross domestic product (GDP). Over 20 national economies generated more than one-tenth of their national income from this sector.

In the first year of the pandemic, travel’s share of global GDP halved to 5%, even with a reduced denominator as all activity slowed. In the same year, 62 million jobs were lost in the travel & tourism sector. The global vaccine rollout was hoped to be the medicine that would set the stage for the revival of tourism in 2021, but that outcome didn’t materialize. New COVID-19 variants and public health measures continued to hinder domestic and foreign travel.

But as a growing number of destinations ease limitations on movement, international arrivals in various regions are ticking up again. Household savings accrued during the pandemic, led by generous government support and the inability of people to spend on travel and entertainment during 2020 and 2021, provided further impetus to the industry.

According to World Tourism Organization data, global tourism increased 182% in the first quarter of 2022 over the same time period last year. With two years of summer holidays lost, the momentum continued into the peak season. Global hotel occupancy in April and May exceeded pre-pandemic levels. The European and American continents are at the forefront of this recovery. Europe saw more than four times as many international arrivals in the first five months of 2022 when compared to last year’s traffic. In the Americas, arrivals more than doubled.